The Major Arcana in tarot can be seen as a metaphor for life, with each of the 22 cards representing a major event/person/situation that we may experience on the physical plane. There’s a reason that the major arcana cards are called trump cards, and that’s because when they are pulled in a reading, they are given extra attention due to their importance in the deck. They don’t just stand alone. Each one leads to the next, either forwards or back, depending on your movement in life and the direction that your soul needs to take in this life to achieve its goals. Each image pictured below is from the original Rider Waite deck, which you can find here. Follow along with me on the journey of the Fool.
(0) The Fool – He sets out for the first time in this world with nothing to himself but what he has in his bag. He is oblivious, but happy. Full of hope. He has no idea of the things that life can and will throw at him, and he doesn’t see the cliff he just might step off of if he isn’t careful. The Fool is the naivety in us all. The newborn soul stepping into this world for the first time. All he knows is the happiness he feels at being alive and part of the physical world and is ready to experience this life he has been given. He knows that the possibilities are endless, and it is fitting that this card is given the number 0, as it has no beginning and no end. The infinite number of possibilities give rise to the spontaneous nature of the Fool, whether to his detriment or not.
(I) The Magician – The Fool then encounters the Magician, who teaches the Fool that our consciousness and our willpower can affect the world around us. The Magician represents that active part of our creative awareness and impulses, teaching the Fool that all we need to create, we hold within us. The Fool simply needs to take the pieces of the puzzle and put them together, and the Magician teaches the Fool how to use the tools he is given to change his life.
(II) The High Priestess – After meeting the Magician, the Fool encounters the High Priestess. She teaches the Fool about the mysteries of life and that sometimes they are better left as mysteries. She represents our hidden selves, the shadow of the unconscious, where all mysteries of the self are repressed. The High Priestess teaches the Fool that the shadow is not a bad thing. She shows the Fool that sometimes, it is within that shadow that our creativity may sit, waiting for the spark of imagination and idea to ignite it and bring it into the light.
(III) The Empress – When the Fool meets the Empress, he knows he is safe. The Empress is a mother figure to the Fool. Through the Empress, the Fool learns to express and appreciate his love for nature and sensation. She teaches him to explore his surroundings and take in all that he sees. She is the Fool’s biggest fan and encourages his growth through the exploration of what is around him.
(IV) The Emperor – Next, the Fool meets the Emperor who rules with strong will and strict adherence to the rules. He is the authority figure to the Fool and teaches him about structure, rules, and discipline. With the order that the Emperor teaches the Fool, the Fool begins to understand the way the world works. Rules will be enforced, and sometimes the Fool will not always get his way. However, with the guidance of the Emperor, the Fool begins to understand his place in the world.
(V) The Hierophant – Soon the Fool ventures away from his home and meets the Hierophant. This is when he begins his formal education and starts to learn that there is more than one system of beliefs. The Hierophant teaches the Fool about the belief systems that surround him, and soon the Fool begins to find a place that he fits with others like him. The Fool learns the acceptable behaviors of the society and culture in which he lives, and takes delight in fitting in with his group.
(VI) The Lovers – The Fool soon discovers the concept of love. He starts to long for companionship and relationship with another person, to become the half of a whole unit. He must understand that with love comes responsibility, and to be the half to a whole requires work on both parts in order for the partnership to be stable and last in happiness. The Fool begins to realize that a partnership with another person can bring joy to his life. He desires to share his beliefs and values with another person of like mind.
(VII) The Chariot – As the Fool grows and matures, his Ego is mastered, as that is all he has had thus far. He is self-confident and in control of his situation and surroundings, leading him to be assertive in nature and dominant in the things he pursues. He is well-educated and believes at this point that he knows all that he needs in order to be successful in life, and he believes his current success will last.
(VIII) Strength – Soon the Fool realizes that not everything is going as great as he wanted. Things begin to happen in his life that require Strength, and he learns that sometimes suffering is necessary to grow. By calling on his Strength, the Fool learns to grow his courage to stand his ground and get back up when he falls. The Fool realizes that to be strong, sometimes you must be soft. The Ego of the Chariot needs to be put back in its place before growth can happen on a larger scale.
(IX) The Hermit – When the Fool meets the Hermit, he starts to question the things around him. The Hermit teaches the Fool to ask “Why?” and to search for deeper meaning in life. The Fool comes to understand that the sensuality that he felt when he encountered the Lovers is not all there is to life, and he secludes himself away to find the deeper truth to life.
(X) Wheel of Fortune – Not everything in life is guaranteed, and when the Fool encounters the Wheel of Fortune, that becomes clear to him. The Wheel of Fortune teaches the Fool that even though it may not always be clear, everything is by design. The Universe and all of its parts work together in harmony, continuously turning and moving the world forward. The Fool has some questions answered and knows now that even though he may have a small part to play, every part is important. His perspective is widened and his sense of purpose is found again.
(XI) Justice – With a wider perspective, the Fool meets Justice. Justice makes the Fool look back at his actions, inactions, and their consequences to view the causal relationship between them. The Fool has grown much so far and is now mature enough to take responsibility for his actions. Justice makes the Fool question his current path and wonder if he wants to continue on in life with an open perspective and clean slate or go back to his secluded, yet easier, life of unknowing.
(XII) The Hanged Man – After meeting Justice, the Fool encounters the Hanged Man who is quite literally hanging upside down. The Hanged Man teaches the Fool that sometimes your actions have undesirable consequences that turn your world upside down. The Fool sees himself in the Hanged Man, and learns that sometimes you have to let go and give up your control in order to move forward and find peace. The Fool feels suspended in time, unable to move forward from the daunting place he is in, until he lets go and allows the Universe to do its work.
(XIII) Death – One of the more upsetting figures that the Fool meets, Death has an important lesson to teach the Fool. Death is not always the end. Sometimes, Death clears away the things that need to be gone from the Fool’s world in order to pave the path for new and better opportunities and learning experiences. Even though the Fool may feel he is suffering due to the Death of the old and unnecessary, Death teaches the Fool to rise up and face the new dawn. To grow once again where the old was removed.
(XIV) Temperance – To say the Fool’s journey so far has been harmonious would be false. The Fool has swung back and forth on the emotional spectrum, from the hard and ego-centered ruler of the Chariot to the secluded and introspective character of the Hermit. Temperance teaches the Fool the joy in a harmonious life, one that is ruled by moderation instead of extremes. The Fool has now combined all aspects of himself into one, a centered and stable whole who is able to experience the extreme emotions of the Chariot and the Hermit without letting it overrun his thoughts and actions.
(XV) The Devil – Soon after, the Fool encounters the Devil. The Devil’s lesson for the Fool may be a difficult one to learn, but it is one that is needed. The Devil teaches the Fool that sometimes, we may feel lost and hopeless. The Devil shows the Fool that though he may be happy with what he has now, the chains that bind him to the material world are holding him back and he only needs to free himself of these chains to continue to grow and lose any sense of despair he might have.
(XVI) The Tower – The Fool wants to shake the despair that has bubbled to the surface after meeting with the Devil, and thus encounters the Tower. The Tower is not a physical place but a place within the Fool. It represents the wall he has built around his ego and he knows now that he needs the enlightenment brought by a sudden change to knock down the walls of his tower, topple the crown of his pride, and free the truth within.
(XVII) The Star – The Star brings the Fool the peace and serenity after the storm of emotion that the Devil caused and the overthrowing of the Fool’s pride by the tower. The Star teaches the Fool to hide behind no disguise and be true to himself. The Fool’s trust in himself is restored, and the Star shines brightly, reminding the Fool to share the love and spread generosity whenever he can.
(XVIII) The Moon – After the emotional turmoil caused by the Devil and Tower, and the restoration of the Fool’s trust in himself by the Star, what might the Fool possibly encounter next? The Moon shows the Fool not to get lost in his emotional state of being. In his state of pure bliss, the Fool is susceptible to the illusions of reality and a dreamy condition that could bring rise to living in a fantasy. The Moon reminds the Fool not to get lost in his thoughts, as he might end up feeling bewildered and lost when the reality of the situations at hand hit him.
(XIX) The Sun – With the reminder of the Moon in his mind, the Fool then encounters the Sun. The Sun shines light on the Fool, illuminating all that might be hidden in the darkness and reminds the Fool that without darkness, there can be no light. The Sun directs the Fool’s imagination and dispels the clouds of uncertainty and fear that hold the Fool back. With the light shining on him, the Fool feels empowered and begins to understand the goodness in the world instead of just feeling it.
(XX) Judgement – The Fool has finally began to shed his ego-driven facade in honor of his true self. Judgement calls to the Fool to examine his past mistakes and, though he may regret them, the Fool now understands that the mistakes made were due to his ignorance and fear. Judgement comes to ask the Fool which values he is going to cherish in this life and allow him to let go of that which no longer serves him. The Fool is now ready to follow his dreams, having the knowledge and experiences he needs to realize his purpose in this life.
(XI) The World – As the final thing that the Fool encounters, the World is exactly as it sounds. The Fool steps out into the World with a new understanding of life, love, and happiness. He knows now with his experiences that he has the tools he needs to achieve his dreams and spread his message through the world. He becomes actively involved in the growth and achievements in his life, forever reaching higher to continue his growth and achieve his life’s destiny.
Though the Fool’s journey may be over for now, he is us and we are him. He will continue to grow, and he may revisit any of those he met along the way at any time in his life when it is necessary. We all need a reminder sometimes that we shouldn’t lead with pride, rule with an iron fist, or succumb to our fantasies. Let the story of the Journey of the Fool guide you in your life.